Sheila Duffy – Chief Executive, ASH Scotland
I notice that your full-page advert on ‘plain packaging’ (10 September) featured the Scottish Wholesale Association but was in fact ‘produced and placed’ by Imperial Tobacco. Only those reading the small print would have spotted that a major tobacco company, spending significant money on opposing this proposal, feels the need to hide behind a more reputable face.
The case for requiring tobacco products to be sold in plain packaging is straightforward. The tobacco industry uses branding and packaging to promote its products as sophisticated, elegant, slimming, rugged or attractive – and a young person in Scotland takes up smoking about every 30 minutes.
Yet a recent review of 37 published studies found “strong evidence… that plain packaging would reduce the attractiveness and appeal of tobacco products.” The tobacco industry has a long history of using the spectre of counterfeit tobacco to oppose attempts to regulate its activities.
Over the summer, the Scottish Government joined Westminster in a public consultation over whether to introduce plain packaging across the UK. In response, the tobacco industry shouted long and hard that plain packs would make life easier for counterfeiters.
Experienced Trading Standards and Revenue and Customs professionals do not endorse these fears.
Let’s be clear that ‘plain packs’ are not plain at all. Standardised packaging will remove fancy brand logos and colours but retain pictorial health warnings and other markings required on current packs. Counterfeiters have little trouble copying existing packaging – so plain packs will make little difference to the counterfeit trade.
In addition, illegal brands from overseas, and legal brands imported illegally, would be easier to spot if lawful products were in plain packs.
Plain packaging is a measure to protect children and young people – and is not expected to cause many adult smokers to quit. The main effect would be a reduction in the number of young people starting to smoke, and a slow decrease in smoking rates over time. Fewer smokers means selling fewer cigarettes, but when tobacco kills half of its long-term consumers that is not something the Scottish Wholesale Association should oppose.